The same summer a great battle was fought between the Hermunduri and
the Chatti, both forcibly claiming a river which produced salt in
plenty, and bounded their territories. They had not only a passion
for settling every question by arms, but also a deep-rooted superstition
that such localities are specially near to heaven, and that mortal
prayers are nowhere more attentively heard by the gods. It is, they
think, through the bounty of divine power, that in that river and
in those forests salt is produced, not, as in other countries, by
the drying up of an overflow of the sea, but by the combination of
two opposite elements, fire and water, when the latter had been poured
over a burning pile of wood. The war was a success for the Hermunduri,
and the more disastrous to the Chatti because they had devoted, in
the event of victory, the enemy’s army to Mars and Mercury, a vow
which consigns horses, men, everything indeed on the vanquished side
to destruction. And so the hostile threat recoiled on themselves.
Meanwhile, a state in alliance with us, that of the Ubii, suffered
grievously from an unexpected calamity. Fires suddenly bursting from
the earth seized everywhere on country houses, crops, and villages,
and were rushing on to the very walls of the newly founded colony.
Nor could they be extinguished by the fall of rain, or by river-water,
or by any other moisture, till some countrymen, in despair of a remedy
and in fury at the disaster, flung stones from a distance, and then,
approaching nearer, as the flames began to sink, tried to scare them
away, like so many wild beasts, with the blows of clubs and other
weapons. At last they stript off their clothes and threw them on the
fire, which they were the more likely to quench, the more they had
been soiled by common use.
That same year, the fact that the tree in the Comitium, which 840
years before had sheltered the infancy of Romulus and Remus, was impaired
by the decay of its boughs and by the withering of its stem, was accounted
a portent, till it began to renew its life with fresh shoots.